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Timing Is Everything for Sprint-Relay Success

By Sean P. Flynn
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 15, 2005; Page D16

This Week: The DeMatha 4x100 relay team

Track and Field

"You've all got to be on the same page," says DeMatha's Brendon Peterson, taking the baton from Jamel Sykes. (Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

_____Keys to Baton Handoffs_____

Timing. Every part of the baton exchange must be as precise as possible, as each split second counts in the 4x100 relay. To minimize time, the runner cannot get out too early or too late.

Have a Mark. The runner receiving the baton should set up a mark behind his starting position. At the exact moment the preceding runner arrives, he should be ready to burst out of position.

Focus. Because the smallest glitch in the handoff can have a big effect on final placement, the Stags' runners say intense focus is needed to know exactly when to do exactly what they need to do.

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To remind one another of what needs to happen on their 4x100-meter relay, the DeMatha athletes who run in the event say their favorite phrase to get ready: "Unity."

"Everything is about having a certain part to play in a 4 by 1, and the exchange is the most important part," Stags senior Kai Roper said. "If one person messes up, we mess up as a team."

While explosive speed might be the hallmark of the 4x100 relay, the key to success lies in the three handoffs of the baton, where even the slightest slipup can cost a team valuable time. At the elite level, the difference between first and last can be seconds.

Depending on the meet, the Stags use six athletes for the 4x100 relay: seniors Roper, Matell McDuffy, Brandon Peterson and Dante Buckner, junior Jaumale Sykes and sophomore Michael Cooper.

The team practices its exchanges every day during practice. The first step for the athlete receiving the baton is to set a mark on the track, usually about two meters behind his starting point. When the runner holding the baton reaches that point, the next runner explodes out of his position -- ideally at just the right moment.

The timing has to be perfect for the proper handoff. If the receiving runner is slow to move out of position, the two runners can collide. If he gets out too early, he'll have to slow down to grab the baton, and that can cost time.

"It's all getting out the right way," Sykes said. "You have to be full speed, but you have to go at the right time."

When the lead runner is ready for the baton, he yells "Stick!" and extends his arm straight behind him. At that point, his teammate slaps the baton into his hand.

"You've all got to be on the same page," Peterson said. "Teamwork is very important."

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